Fat Build-Up in Lungs

Can fat really build up in our lungs? Rachael Rettner, senior writer for Live answers these concerns for us. This is just one insidious place that fat can accumulate!

For the first time, there is a new study that shows fat can accumulate in the airway walls of the lungs. The accumulation was higher among those who were overweight or obese, compared with those having a normal weight. The findings also explain in part why obesity is a risk factor for asthma as well. This association has been known for years, but the link is not completely understood. Some of the researchers suggest that excess weight places direct pressure on the lungs and makes breathing more difficult. Others suggest obesity may increase inflammation throughout the body, which contributes to asthma.

Another mechanism is also at play according to co-author Peter Noble, an associate professor at the University of Western Australia in Perth. The fat accumulation may change the structure of people’s airways in a way that raises their asthma risk. They need more research to confirm if fatty tissue in airways really does contribute to asthma and if weight loss could reduce the asthma risk.

They have studied changes in the airways and how they might be tied to respiratory diseases. They noticed in the study that their lung samples showed fatty tissue built up in the walls of the airways within the lung, said study lead author John Elliot, a senior research officer at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital in Perth. But, they wondered if this fat accumulation was tied to body weight. Postmortem samples of airway tissue from 52 people were analyzed, including 16 who had died of asthma-related causes. Special dyes were used to analyze the tissue samples under a microscope and they saw fatty tissue that had accumulated in the airway walls among people in the three groups.

The amount of fat in the airway walls was linked with each person’s body mass index (BMI), so, therefore, there was more fat accumulated in individuals with higher BMIs than those with lower BMIs. They propose that fat accumulation may lead to a thickening in the airways and would limit airflow.

This goes beyond the simple observation that patients with obesity need to breathe more with activity. It points to true airway changes that are associated with obesity.

The findings still need to be confirmed but doctors should support asthma patients to help them achieve or maintain a healthy weight.

Dr Fredda Branyon